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World Cancer Day

Angela Olano

Gail Shantz began her 47 year career as a nurse at Grand River Hospital after completing her nursing training onsite, where the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre currently operates.

In speaking about her 47 years of service, Gail boasts about how lucky she was to have had the chance to work on almost every single floor, from being on the IV team to working with medical imaging. Her tenure, and no doubt friendly nature, led Gail to view the hospital as her home away from home. “I used to walk in the door and think this is my second home”, Gail recalls, smiling and laughing while she reminisced.

About a year from her retirement however, in September 2019, Gail discovered inflamed lymph nodes in her neck, which she initially thought “were nothing.” However, with her training and years of experience, she knew better than to let them be, and subsequently scheduled an appointment to have them checked out.

After a biopsy, Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself back ‘at home’, but - for the first time in 47 years - on the other side of the needle. 

Although shaken, Gail confidently explains that she quickly realized that if she had to have cancer, she felt incredibly lucky to be where she was. Through her cancer journey, her life as a staff member and as a cancer patient continually overlapped, creating a sense of comfort and home. Her room as a patient was her old nurse’s residence, her nurse training started in the old pavilion where now her cancer treatments currently take place. 

She had come full circle and so did many meaningful relationships she forged. Gail shared a story of a past patient undergoing cancer treatment years ago who Gail comforted at length during a procedure. The patient turned out to be a friend of a friend, and then years later, through a series of ‘six-degrees-of’ this same former patient (and breast cancer survivor!) reached out to Gail upon the news of her own diagnosis. They couldn’t be closer. “She helped me through my cancer journey, walked me through her scars and surgeries, gave me books to read, and became my support system.” 

The level of care within the Cancer Centre however is something that resonated the most with Gail. “It was one of the most incredible experiences, everyone was so wonderful- like a well-oiled machine. It made me proud to say I worked at this hospital.”  She went on to joke, “being an old nurse I thought I would be much more critical, but I couldn’t find anything to be critical of!”

In recovery and receiving maintenance treatments, Gail now spends much of her (well-deserved!) retirement at her cottage and (for the moment) video chatting with her grandson who was born last summer. And just yesterday, Gail interviewed to volunteer administering COVID-19 vaccinations in our local clinic. The embodiment of #careneverstops.

Looking to support our Regional Cancer Centre this World Cancer Day? There are lots of way contribute:

Drop here!

7 comments


  • I have had the privilege of working in Medical Imaging with Gail , an exemplary professional whose smile is almost as big as her heart. Not only in the workplace, but outside as well. Gail and her husband Sandy stepped up to the plate and selflessly and lovingly helped out a friend. Lots of laughs , fun , and memories. A great lady, proud to call a friend.

    Madonna Storozuk on

  • I am a family friend through our husbands . I have know Gail socially and through my many trips to GRH, usually for my own clumsiness ;-) . Gail has always been one of the most gracious, caring and compassionate women I knew as a friend and a nurse. Her diagnosis angered me. But turned into a blessing when My own diagnosis followed hers several months later.. she was there for me again, being my rock and my support! She is one of the greatest and should be in charge of training nurses and people in general! May her retirement and grandmotherhood last a long and healthy time!

    Maurie Sheppard on

  • I worked with Gail in Medical Imaging! Her nursing skills were amazing! She was wonderful with patients and brought her compassion and sense of humour to work everyday to share with patients and coworkers alike. It was an honour to work along side her and call her my friend!

    Krista Jovanovic on

  • I worked as a colleague of Gail’s in Medical Imaging and always valued that time.A very caring and dedicated nurse that also had a great sense of humour. Well deserved to be recognized for her contribution to GRH. She has handled her diagnosis like a champ and no doubt has given the Cancer Clinic staff lots of laughs.Hopefully we can work together again in the vaccination clinic.

    Bonnie Hallman on

  • I had the privilege to be one of Gai’s nursing instructors. She showed such promise as a student nurse. Her nursing skills grew & grew as she become the epitome of excellence in nursing. A role model for all. Well done Gail!

    Margie Warren on

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